For two decades, India, England, and Australia have dominated the global cricket stage financially, and given the inherent setup of international cricket, this is unlikely to change.
The trio are the only nations capable of turning a profit in international cricket due to the popularity of the sport in their respective countries, thus leaving the rest of the cricketing world at an imbalance.
The three nations play far more test matches than any other team and can strike massive broadcasting deals for their home series games that generate revenues far greater than other nations like South Africa and West Indies.
ICC events are also a significant generator of revenue for the organizations, with a specific focus on the Cricket World Cup. The 2019 edition alone generated approximately $500 million in broadcast revenues.
This money is key for the ICC to reinvest in its associate nations and enhance the global growth of the game.
However, during the 2016-2023 broadcasting cycle, the ICC gave approximately $393 million to India, while 93 associate or junior cricketing nations were awarded a combined $215 million.
India is already the richest cricketing nation and doesn’t need this money in the same way that many other nations do – a classic example of the rich getting richer.
From India’s perspective, it deserves this larger share of money due to the amount of money a series with the team generates. For many cricketing nations, the most money generated from a series is when India visits, so it has an argument that it is responsible for increased revenues.
This situation is not too dissimilar from the failed European Super League, which dominated the soccer news cycle in April 2021. Several of Europe’s richest and most powerful clubs attempted to break away and form their own closed league where teams would compete against each other and share a massive pot of the revenues.
Fans, players, and pundits universally rallied against the idea, and the league eventually collapsed when the participating English clubs pulled out of the idea due to the severity of the backlash.
The fundamental idea of the league was to ensure that these clubs continued to get richer in a way that was risk-free.
Soccer can be seen as a risky investment for investors due to the threat of relegation and the financial penalties that can bring about. Profits are not a guarantee and these owners wanted a closed system where they could guarantee yearly profits with none of the danger.
While it’s somewhat harsh to compare the current cricketing system to this, the financial gulf between the top teams and the rest is certainly comparable.
The lack of money in these other nations incentivizes their players to play less international cricket and seek out bigger paycheques in franchise cricket.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) has proven to be enormously successful and has grown the popularity of the T20 format massively. Other countries including Pakistan and South Africa have also launched their own versions.
In 2019, South African bowler Duanne Olivier signed a contract with English county club Yorkshire, which made him ineligible to play for South Africa.
In response, West Indies captain Jason Holder called for the ICC to introduce a minimum wage for international players to incentivize them to stop chasing bigger paydays, but no such action has been undertaken.
New Zealand was happy to begin releasing its players to play in the IPL, but this was due to it not clashing with their domestic season, unlike other nations.
Interest in test cricket has increased with the adoption of the World Test Championship, an official ICC competition to determine the best test team in the world.
Test nations play each other in various series around the world over a two-year cycle, before a league table determines the top two teams, who then compete in a one-off final.
The championship has given much-needed context to test cricket and added higher stakes to a format that people are supposedly losing interest in.
However, under this format, not every team plays each other, meaning that there is no obligation for the biggest teams to play smaller ones.
This has resulted in a league table where England has played as many as 22 matches, while nations such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have only played 12.
Any series involving the ‘big three’ nations frequently runs longer than two matches, while those involving nations such as New Zealand, South Africa, and West Indies never seem to have more than two unless any of the big three are involved.
This also influences player records, most notably with a player like Kane Williamson, who has come to be regarded as the finest batsman New Zealand has ever produced.
He has often been compared with the likes of Joe Root, Steve Smith, and Virat Kohli as one of the best in the world but has far fewer test runs than the trio having played fewer matches.
While it’s entirely possible that Williamson may have ended up with fewer runs than his contemporaries even with a similar match count, it seems grossly unfair that players of his caliber are essentially being punished because they are not a part of the big three.
This same argument could be applied to Pakistani batsman Babar Azam, who is currently regarded as one of the best in the world across all formats.
This current imbalance is something that the ICC should have been intent on fixing years ago, and it may now be too late to reverse the trend.
The reality is that the ICC allowed this situation to develop by agreeing to give the big three the biggest share of media revenues in 2014.
While this pay model was later restructured to be fairer in 2017, the payments that nations outside of the big three received still paled in comparison to what they had been paid.
India, England, and Australia have only become richer and can use this to leverage even greater profits going forward.
As a result, the power dynamic in cricket is unlikely to shift soon, as the big three will continue to generate more money and call the shots for the rest of the cricketing world.
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